Re: Technical writing as a trade

Subject: Re: Technical writing as a trade
From: John Allred <jack -at- allrednet -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 01 Nov 2011 16:04:39 -0500

I love this discussion. It's a reasonable statement that an autodidact
is one who has, to put it in few words, learned how to learn. Is it not
true that education, at its core, has this as a major goal? Once a
person has acquired the discipline of learning, the process becomes
repeatable in other areas, without need of a "master" or a formal
academic setting. This describes the best tech writers I've known.
On 11/1/2011 12:59 PM, Porrello, Leonard wrote:

Comments cherry-picked from Chris' post are in quotes. Responses follow.

"All I'm saying is that you can look at any trade, craft, profession, or even ar
t through a lens of trade, craft, profession, or even art. That's all I'm sayin
g... You can use the lens if you want to, and you can get value out of using it
. Or not. So shoot me, already."

I totally agree and will call off the hit team.

"I jumped to the wrong conclusion, then. Your vote is in favor of tech writer c
ertification."

No, not really. Just because I think it is possible doesn't mean that I think it
would beneficial or otherwise desirable. Besides, I already have a certificate.
For personal reasons (I already have a certificate, am not interested in jumpin
g through more hoops than I already have to, I don't have the time), I am agains
t certification as the STC has designed the program.

"But the American self-made man did happen"

I believe in pioneers and revolutionaries, but I think the phrase "self-made man
" is deeply misleading. We are all profoundly indebted to our parents and our cu
lture. Show me a person who raised himself alone in the wilderness and invented
his own civilization and technology, and I will support the concept. As for Edis
on, I looked him up too. I would also add Abe Lincoln to the list as well. But t
he list isn't one of men and women who had little education. It is a list of peo
ple who were exceptionally autodidactic. They were persistent enough to find the
books they needed to learn when they felt they needed to know. They were also a
rguably intelligent enough to recognize their own blind spots (unlike most of th
e rest of us who need to have them pointed out). For every great inventor or sci
entist that was "self-educated," you will find countless others who went through
extensive formal education (Newton, Einstein, Planck, Fermi... to name a very f
ew).

"You can take a clear thinker who is reasonably literate, and teach that person
to be a very good tech writer."

No contest. I agree. I would point out your starting point, however: "reasonably
literate." That comes only from education.


From: Chris Despopoulos [[1]mailto:despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com]
Sent: Tuesday, November 01, 2011 9:46 AM
To: Porrello, Leonard; [2]techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: Re: Technical writing as a trade

Comments inline...

________________________________
From: "Porrello, Leonard" [3]<lporrello -at- illumina -dot- com>
To: 'Chris Despopoulos' [4]<despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com>; [5]"techwr-l -at- lists -dot- te
chwr-l.com" [6]<techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Sent: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 12:03 PM
Subject: RE: Technical writing as a trade

Chris states, "... organizing matter is ultimately an exercise in organizing ide
as, whether the matter is assembled as I-beams, bricks, or bits."

Yes, of course. Anything man does has at least an analog in thought. As Aristotl
e says, man is a rational animal. What follows from your definition, however, is
that what masons and plumbers do is essentially no different from what lawyers
and physicists do. Do you accept this conclusion?

[cud]
I already differentiated law and physics from tech writing (lawyers and physici
sts need a degree). But that's skirting your question. There is a difference i
n degree (degree of a different kind). But I wasn't aware that I had made a def
inition. I was just pointing out the blur between mental and physical work. Al
l I'm saying is that you can look at any trade, craft, profession, or even art t
hrough a lens of trade, craft, profession, or even art. That's all I'm saying..
. You can use the lens if you want to, and you can get value out of using it.
Or not. So shoot me,already.
[end cud]

"The bottom-line question here (the thread) is, can you certify what we do? It s
eems Leonard argues we cannot... Good writing requires a degree or academic pre
paration, not a mere certification."

To the contrary, I do think technical writers can be certified. I also think tha
t one learns how to write only through education (i.e., "academic preparation").
I am a big believer in formal, academic education (when done right) and reject
the anti-intellectualism that is unfortunately so prevalent in the American psyc
he. The uniquely American myth of the "self-made man" a crock of bull. Newton hi
mself said, "I have seen further only by standing on the shoulders of giants." T
he greatest inventions and insights of our time (of all times?) came from men an
d women who underwent "academic education."

[cud]
I jumped to the wrong conclusion, then. Your vote is in favor of tech writer c
ertification. The question remains, what can be certified that isn't already qu
alified by the candidate's degree? (I'll add that I'm glad the STC doesn't requ
ire higher than a high school degree for certification.)

I did look at T. Edison's bio on Wikipedia, and it points out that he had little
formal education. I don't disparage education, and I also really hate good ole
American anti-intellectualism. But the American self-made man did happen... I
t's a product of any frontier society. Heck, I made myself on the digital front
ier, and I know there are others who did the same.
[end cud]

If I had to define "education," I would say it is something like, "exhaustive sy
stematic practice taken under the scrutiny and remediation of a master." I would
say that one is educated in his field when he has achieved meta-cognitive compe
tence in his domain. (Someone with an exceptionally good education will also rec
ognize areas in which he is not competent.) I would add that after mastering fun
damentals, great writers become autodidactic. In my experience, successful tech
writers ("masters") are invariably autodidacts.

[cud]
Without disparaging formal education, I have to repeat my original claim... You
can take a clear thinker who is reasonably literate, and teach that person to b
e a very good tech writer. You can do this on the job -- I've seen it done, and
I've done it. I've seen these people stand out amongst their peers, some of wh
om were formally educated. I can't say how systematic or exhaustive the trainin
g was... Being on the job, it's necessarily situational. (I also shudder to ca
ll myself a master... Verging on hubris there.) Given that, I believe a verifi
ed work history, plus a reasonably canny assessment of a person's thinking, is e
nough to decide whether the candidate is up to the job. (Just restating my clai
m that among journeymen, it takes one to know one.)
[end cud]

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References

1. mailto:despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com
2. mailto:techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
3. mailto:lporrello -at- illumina -dot- com
4. mailto:despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com
5. mailto:techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
6. mailto:techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
7. http://www.doctohelp.com/
8. mailto:jack -at- allrednet -dot- com
9. mailto:techwr-l-leave -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
10. http://lists.techwr-l.com/mailman/options/techwr-l/jack%40allrednet.com
11. mailto:techwr-l-join -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
12. mailto:admin -at- techwr-l -dot- com
13. http://www.techwhirl.com/email-discussion-groups/
14. http://techwhirl.com/
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References:
Re: Technical writing as a trade; was, RE: Give Me a Clear Thinker (was STC certification: what's in it for tech writers?): From: Chris Despopoulos
RE: Technical writing as a trade: From: Porrello, Leonard
Re: Technical writing as a trade: From: Chris Despopoulos
RE: Technical writing as a trade: From: Porrello, Leonard

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